As a business owner, it’s exciting to hire employees and watch your company grow. But there are legal risks if you give job candidates and employees reason to believe your staffing decisions and policies are discriminatory.
The first step in avoiding a job discrimination lawsuit is to have a basic understanding of what you can’t discriminate against and the nature of the laws that prohibit employment discrimination.
You need to comply with all applicable federal and state (even some local) laws that protect people from job discrimination. So, in your employment ads, job applications, job interviews, background checks, social media account reviews, employment policies and anything else you do in your efforts to hire and maintain your workforce, you need to follow the rules. State laws vary, so make sure you do your research to find out which apply to you. Passed by Congress, signed by the President, and enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), federal anti-discrimination laws prohibit various types of discrimination and affect employers everywhere in the United States.
Here’s a rundown of what you can’t discriminate against and the federal laws that protect individuals:
Race/color, national origin, religion, sex, and pregnancy – Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prevents employers from denying employment based on the race, color, sex, religion, and national origin. It prohibits job discrimination against women because of pregnancy, childbirth, or any related medical conditions. In addition, it makes unwelcome sexual advances and other verbal and physical harassment of a sexual nature illegal. The law also makes it unlawful to not offer equal pay and benefits based on sex, race, religion, sex, and national origin. Something else you should keep in mind is that employment policies or practices that apply to everyone might be considered illegal if they negatively affect the employment of people within the protected classes under Title VII.
Age – The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 protects individuals age 40 and older from being treated unfavorably based on age during hiring and employment by employers. It applies only to businesses with 20 or more employees, but some states have laws that apply to companies with far fewer employees.
Disability – The Americans with Disabilities Act protects qualified individuals with disabilities from being unfavorably treated in the workplace (including with regard to pay or benefits) and during the hiring process as a result of their disabilities. Discrimination protection also applies to applicants and employees who have a history of a disability (such as cancer that’s in remission) or because they may have a physical or mental impairment.
Genetic Information – Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA) prohibits discrimination against applicants and employees because of genetic information. It restricts employers, employment agencies, labor organizations, and certain other entities from asking for, demanding, buying, or disclosing individuals’ genetic information.
Standing Up Against Discrimination – Under all the laws that the EEO enforces, job applicants and employees are protected from discrimination and harassment as a result of them asserting their rights not to be treated unfavorably. Federal laws make it illegal to retaliate against job candidates and employees who take certain measures to protect themselves and others (for example: file a complaint, charge, investigation, or lawsuit; resist sexual advances or protect others from being sexually harassed; talk with a manager about discrimination or harassment, etc.).
Know The Rules And Follow Them
Besides knowing the laws and what they’re created to protect against, I suggest seeking the guidance of a trusted legal and/or human resources professional to ensure your employment practices comply. From making sure your job application doesn’t cross any lines to knowing the job interview questions that are illegal to setting salaries and benefit packages, you’ll find plenty of gray areas that may need specialized expertise. Having the peace of mind that your hiring practices are compliant with anti-discrimination laws is well-worth putting in a little extra time and attention when staffing your business.